When the market crashed in 2008, it became clear that neoliberalism was not the way forward. But at the time, neither the protesters of Occupy Wall Street nor politicians had realistic alternatives.
Now, over a decade later during the biggest crisis since the Second World War, it’s different.
Economists, philosophers and politicians have been fighting the cynical dogma that most people are selfish for years. They’ve been working on real alternatives.
Now we know: humankind is actually not selfish, but has evolved due to its unparalleled willingness to cooperate. If, going forward, we took that fact seriously, everything could change. Governments could be based on trust. Tax systems could be rooted in solidarity. Social security could be reformed.
We don’t know where this crisis will lead us, writes Rutger Bregman, but this time the groundwork has been laid for a radically different world.
The neoliberal era is ending. What comes next?
On 4 April 2020, the British-based Financial Times published an editorial likely to be quoted by historians for years to come.
The Financial Times is the world’s leading business daily and, let’s be honest, not exactly a progressive publication. It’s read by the richest and most powerful players in global politics and finance. Every month, it puts out a magazine supplement unabashedly titled “How to Spend It” about yachts and mansions and watches and cars.
But on this memorable Saturday morning in April, that paper published this:
“Radical reforms – reversing the prevailing policy direction of the last four decades – will need to be put on the table. Governments will have to accept a more active role in the economy. They must see public services as investments rather than liabilities, and look for ways to make labour markets less insecure. Redistribution will again be on the agenda; the privileges of the elderly and wealthy in question. Policies until recently considered eccentric, such as basic income and wealth taxes, will have to be in the mix.”
What’s going on here? How could the tribune of capitalism suddenly be advocating for more redistribution, bigger government, and even a basic income?
For decades, this institution stood firmly behind the capitalist model of small government, low taxes, limited social security – or at most with the sharpest edges rounded off. “Throughout the years I’ve worked there,” responded a journalist who has written for the paper since 1986, “the Financial Times has advocated free market capitalism with a human face. This from the editorial board sends us in a bold new direction.”
Crises played a central role in economist Milton Friedman’s thinking. In the preface to his book Capitalism and Freedom (1982), he wrote the famous words:
“Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.”
DISSOLVE THE PATRIARCHY. ENOUGH.
US president-elect Ronald Reagan in Los Angeles in November 1980. Reagan consulting with his economic advisers about his new economic policy. From left to right: Walter Wriston, Milton Friedman, Daryl Trent, George Shultz, Ronald Reagan, Paul McCracken. Photo: Bettmann / Getty
In recent weeks, lists have been published all over the world of what we’ve started calling “essential workers”. And surprise: jobs like “hedge fund manager” and “multinational tax consultant” appear nowhere on those lists. All of a sudden, it has become crystal clear who’s doing the truly important work in care and in education, in public transit and in grocery stores.
In 2018, two Dutch economists did a study leading them to conclude that a quarter of the working population suspect their job is pointless. Even more interesting is that there are four times more “socially pointless jobs” in the business world than in the public sphere. The largest number of these people with self-professed “bullshit jobs” are employed in sectors like finance and marketing.
In recent years, the Overton Window has undeniably shifted. What once was marginal is now mainstream. A French economist’s obscure graph became the slogan of Occupy Wall Street (“We are the 99%”); Occupy Wall Street paved the way for a revolutionary presidential candidate, and Bernie Sanders pulled other politicians like Biden in his direction.
These days, more young US Americans have a favourable view of socialism than of capitalism – something that would have been unthinkable 30 years ago. (In the early 1980s, young voters were the neoliberal Reagan’s biggest support base.)
One thing is certain. There comes a point when pushing on the edges of the Overton Window is no longer enough. There comes a point when it’s time to march through the institutions and bring the ideas that were once so radical to the centres of power.
The worst could be yet to come. ‘According to a leaked internal Trump administration report that predicts 3,000 coronavirus deaths a day by June 1.
Why it matters: That’s nearly double the status quo. The report published by the N.Y. Times shows the possibility of 200,000 new cases a day by the end of May. In April, new daily cases hovered around 30,000. [The model was created by Johns Hopkins professor Justin Lessler.] @axios
[Kropotkin criticizes the State for destroying mutual aid institutions.]
‘Social Darwinists began to argue that evolutionary theory should inform politics, too. The whole effort of nature is to get rid of such, to clear the world of them, and make room for better.’
Reading this piece by a brilliant writer while knowing who is part of this current administration and knowing who are most COVID vulnerable this social Darwinism frame seems to aligned with the decisions being made during this pandemic. -dayle
“Social Darwinists” began to argue that evolutionary theory should inform politics, too. Like the billionaire Andrew Carnegie, who swore his wealth was a product of natural law: “We accept and welcome (…) great inequality,” he pronounced.
The philosopher Herbert Spencer sold hundreds of thousands of books in which he characterised life as an eternal battle. Regarding people living in poverty, he wrote: “The whole effort of nature is to get rid of such, to clear the world of them, and make room for better.”
Economic and biological theories began to converge. Where biologists said existence revolved around survival and reproduction, economists believed that we exist to consume and produce.
Humankind has risen to great heights by fighting each other and crushing its weak…what’s we need is a complete overhaul of assumptions about human nature…implications for how we design our democracies, schools and workplaces…the biggest questions we can ask. What is it to be human? How should we organise ourselves? And, can we trust one another?
A MAN WITH A DANGEROUS IDEA: TRUST EACH OTHER
But what if it’s not survival of the fittest, but survival of the kindest, most cooperative?
In 19th-century Russia there lived a man who believed that mutual aid, cooperation, and friendship were how humankind truly thrives.
Today, Progress correspondent Rutger Bregman tells the extraordinary story of Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin and the important lesson we can take from him.
Journalist and radio host Kai Ryssdal: “History matters.” @kairyssdal
Ah, here’s a bleak new study from the NY Fed: In the wake of the 1918-1920 influenza, German cities that got hit harder saw: A) Lower spending on education in the post-crisis period B) More support for the Nazi party
We’re Being Too Optimistic About What Post-Pandemic America Will Look Like
The coronavirus has revealed so many of our institutions to be vulnerable or broken. But that doesn’t mean they will change.
In March, when Politico surveyed “more than 30 smart, macro thinkers” on what will likely change when the pandemic is over, the predictions were heartening, for the most part. They included: a decrease in toxic partisanship, a renewed trust in experts and science, greater government involvement in pharmaceutical production and transformations to elections that could include widespread voting by mail and electronic voting. VICE’s tech desk did a similar exercise, pointing out that the coronavirus has exposed a lot of weaknesses and problems in the U.S. that could be alleviated by progressive policies ranging from universal health care to abolishing ICE. The online magazine Yale Environment 360 wrote that Bill Gates and other optimists have speculated that “the sudden transformation of our lives by COVID-19 will teach us about the virtues of mutual aid, and that it will shock policymakers into being more precautionary in the face of future risks,” most notably the existential danger of climate change.
There’s no denying that this kind of positive thinking about the future is attractive, and has undoubtedly served as a coping mechanism. And some coronavirus predictions seem much more likely than others (for instance, that those who can do their jobs from home may not return to offices for months). But there are already signs that in many ways, the world will snap back to normal at the first available opportunity. The notion that COVID-19 will shock us into being more responsible about climate change or will lead us to reform our institutions underrates the sheer force of inertia that made us so vulnerable to the virus in the first place.
Sure, coronavirus should be a wake-up call, on so many fronts. But leaders, particularly in the U.S., are likely to just hit the snooze button.
If the coronavirus pandemic follows the path of the 1918 flu and the 2008 economic crisis, the world’s political energies will largely be devoted to restoring what we had, rather than using the opportunity to change things for the better. Whenever this strange, long moment in history ends, we might be surprised by how much things resemble our old world order. And that will be a disaster.
“Wow, Financial Times editorial today. ‘Radical reforms — reversing the policy direction of the last four decades — will need to be put on the table. (…) Policies until recently considered eccentric, such as basic income and wealth taxes, will have to be in the mix.'”
Virus lays bare the frailty of the social contract Radical reforms are required to forge a society that will work for all
If there is a silver lining to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is that it has injected a sense of togetherness into polarised societies. But the virus, and the economic lockdowns needed to combat it, also shine a glaring light on existing inequalities — and even create new ones. Beyond defeating the disease, the great test all countries will soon face is whether current feelings of common purpose will shape society after the crisis. As western leaders learnt in the Great Depression, and after the second world war, to demand collective sacrifice you must offer a social contract that benefits everyone.
Today’s crisis is laying bare how far many rich societies fall short of this ideal. Much as the struggle to contain the pandemic has exposed the unpreparedness of health systems, so the brittleness of many countries’ economies has been exposed, as governments scramble to stave off mass bankruptcies and cope with mass unemployment. Despite inspirational calls for national mobilisation, we are not really all in this together.
The economic lockdowns are imposing the greatest cost on those already worst off. Overnight millions of jobs and livelihoods have been lost in hospitality, leisure and related sectors, while better paid knowledge workers often face only the nuisance of working from home. Worse, those in low-wage jobs who can still work are often risking their lives — as carers and healthcare support workers, but also as shelf stackers, delivery drivers and cleaners.
Governments’ extraordinary budget support for the economy, while necessary, will in some ways make matters worse. Countries that have allowed the emergence of an irregular and precarious labour market are finding it particularly hard to channel financial help to workers with such insecure employment. Meanwhile, vast monetary loosening by central banks will help the asset-rich. Behind it all, underfunded public services are creaking under the burden of applying crisis policies.
The way we wage war on the virus benefits some at the expense of others. The victims of Covid-19 are overwhelmingly the old. But the biggest victims of the lockdowns are the young and active, who are asked to suspend their education and forgo precious income. Sacrifices are inevitable, but every society must demonstrate how it will offer restitution to those who bear the heaviest burden of national efforts.
Radical reforms — reversing the prevailing policy direction of the last four decades — will need to be put on the table. Governments will have to accept a more active role in the economy. They must see public services as investments rather than liabilities, and look for ways to make labour markets less insecure. Redistribution will again be on the agenda; the privileges of the elderly and wealthy in question. Policies until recently considered eccentric, such as basic income and wealth taxes, will have to be in the mix.
The taboo-breaking measures governments are taking to sustain businesses and incomes during the lockdown are rightly compared to the sort of wartime economy western countries have not experienced for seven decades. The analogy goes still further.
The leaders who won the war did not wait for victory to plan for what would follow. Franklin D Roosevelt and Winston Churchill issued the Atlantic Charter, setting the course for the United Nations, in 1941. The UK published the Beveridge Report, its commitment to a universal welfare state, in 1942. In 1944, the Bretton Woods conference forged the postwar financial architecture. That same kind of foresight is needed today. Beyond the public health war, true leaders will mobilize to win the peace.
Don’t forget: disasters and crises bring out the best in people
“Dear neighbours. If you’re over 65 and your immune system is weak, I’d like to help you. Since I’m not in the risk group, I can help you in the coming weeks by doing chores or running errands. If you need help, leave a message by the door with your phone number. Together, we can make it through anything. You’re not alone!”
“We’ve learned how to accept help from others,” writes a woman living in Wuhan.“Because of this quarantine, we have bonded with and supported each other in ways that I’ve never experienced in nine years of living here.” Millions of Chinese people are encouraging each other to stand strong, using the Cantonese expression “jiayou” (“don’t give up”). YouTube videos show people in Wuhan singing from the windows of their homes, joined by numerous neighbours nearby, their voices rising in chorus and echoing amongst the soaring towers of Chinese cities.In Siena and Naples, both on complete lockdown, people are singing together from the balconies of their homes.
Children in Italy are writing “andrà tutto bene” (“everything will be all right”) on streets and walls, while countless neighbours are helping each other.On Thursday, an Italian journalist told the Guardian about what he had witnessed with his own eyes: “After a moment of panic in the population, there is now a new solidarity. In my community the drugstores bring groceries to people’s homes, and there is a group of volunteers that visit houses of people over 65.”A tour guide from Venice notes: “It’s human to be scared, but I don’t see panicking, nor acts of selfishness.”
The words “andrà tutto bene” – everything will be all right – were first used by a few mothers from the province of Puglia, who posted the slogan on Facebook. From there, it spread across the country, going viral almost as fast as the pandemic. The coronavirus isn’t the only contagion – kindness, hope and charity are spreading too.
As a species of animal that evolved to make connections and work together, it feels strange to suppress our desire for contact. People enjoy touching each other, and find joy in seeing each other in person – but now we have to keep our physical distance.
Still, I believe we can grow closer in the end, finding each other in this crisis. As Giuseppe Conte, the Italian prime minister, said this week: “Let’s distance ourselves from each other today so that we can embrace each other more warmly […] tomorrow.”
The pandemic has exposed how interconnected and interdependent we are as humans. Everyday practices, like handwashing and covering our sneezes, have become the most basic duty we owe to friends and strangers alike. And we’re finding thoughtful ways to care for another amidst the tumult.
Editor, The On Being Project
“Hope, for me, just means … coming to terms with the fact that we don’t know what will happen and that there’s maybe room for us to intervene.”
“Great literature will come from this. Great art will come from this. Great awareness will come from this. Great love will come from this. More than anything else, great people will come from this – if we allow it to expand our hearts and minds.”
‘In the days since the Seattle area became the epicenter of the outbreak, the outpouring of support has been moving and inspiring. On an individual level, people have offered free babysitting, cooking and food delivery for harried parents and medically vulnerable older adults.
After racist coronavirus fears drove down business in Seattle’s Chinatown International District, Bill Tashima, a board member for the local Japanese American Citizens League, created a Facebook group on Sunday to share ways to support small restaurants. Within days, the group had nearly 5,000 members, sharing ideas for restaurant takeout to boost business in the struggling district and creating a virtual “tip jar” that one member was using to collect donations for restaurant workers.
The artistic community, which already experiences economic insecurity in good times due to unpredictable contract-based work, saw all public events canceled like dominoes in the past week. Seattle-area author Ijeoma Oluo quickly set up a GoFundMe on Monday to raise and distribute funds for artists. Within days, the fund raised $80,000 and distributed $10,000 and was in the process of distributing another $30,000 to artists directly impacted by loss of income due to the coronavirus. Another group of people started a live-performance streaming site on Facebook called “The Quarantine Sessions,” where artists can perform and the audience can tip the band before their performance starts.
To support those who are most vulnerable in an emergency, a grassroots effort formed in Seattle called “Covid19MutualAid,” centered on people with disabilities, people of color, undocumented people, older adults and others. In addition to recruiting volunteers for direct support such as food and grocery deliveries, the group is also advocating for systemic changes that would make communities less vulnerable in the first place.
When Seattle Public Schools announced Wednesday they would be closing abruptly the next day, people across the city jumped into action, knowing that for the 32% of Seattle school district families that are low income, school lunches are a critical part of how children stay fed. Volunteers and staff distributed school lunches for pickup at Highland Park Elementary in West Seattle on Thursday and in Rainier Beach, Washington Building Leaders of Change or WA-BLOC and food justice organization FEEST planned a free hot lunch called “Feed the Beach” for families on Friday with additional lunches twice a week after that.
These are just a few of the many grassroots efforts that are just getting started in our region. Larger entities like the Seattle Foundation are also taking action, with rapid response resources like the COVID-19 Response Fund quadrupling to $9 million in a few days.
The coming months will challenge us in ways we have never before imagined. But if we continue, as writer Sonya Renee Taylor said, to “put radical love into practice,” we might emerge stronger than we began.’
Editor’s note: The spread of novel coronavirus has left the state of Washington in a state of uncertainty. But amid the growing pandemic, members of the community have shown remarkable acts of kindness and efforts to take care of each other. From crowdsourced relief funds for local artists, to readers sending our own newsroom pizza after a long day, many people are rising to the occasion to uplift one another.
Mattia Ferraresi is a writer for the Italian newspaper Il Foglio.
A message from Italy
‘So here’s my warning for the United States: It didn’t have to come to this.
We of course couldn’t stop the emergence of a previously unknown and deadly virus. But we could have mitigated the situation we are now in, in which people who could have been saved are dying. I, and too many others, could have taken a simple yet morally loaded action: We could have stayed home.
What has happened in Italy shows that less-than-urgent appeals to the public by the government to slightly change habits regarding social interactions aren’t enough when the terrible outcomes they are designed to prevent are not yet apparent; when they become evident, it’s generally too late to act. I and many other Italians just didn’t see the need to change our routines for a threat we could not see.
Italy has now been in lockdown since March 9; it took weeks after the virus first appeared here to realize that severe measures were absolutely necessary.
The way to avoid or mitigate all this in the United States and elsewhere is to do something similar to what Italy, Denmark, and Finland are doing now, but without wasting the few, messy weeks in which we thought a few local lockdowns, canceling public gatherings, and warmly encouraging working from home would be enough stop the spread of the virus. We now know that wasn’t nearly enough.
Life in lockdown is hard, but it is also an exercise in humility. Our collective well-being makes our little individual wishes look a bit whimsical and small-minded. My wife and I work from home, or at least we try to. We help the kids with their homework, following the instructions their teachers send every morning via voice messages and video, in a moving attempt to keep alive their relationships with their students.
Strangely, it’s also a moment in which our usual individualistic, self-centered outlook is waning a bit. In the end, each of us is giving up our individual freedom in order to protect everybody, especially the sick and the elderly. When everybody’s health is at stake, true freedom is to follow instructions.’
Eric Klinenberg, NYU Social Sciences Professor
‘It’s an open question whether Americans have enough social solidarity to stave off the worst possibilities of the coronavirus pandemic. There’s ample reason to be skeptical. We’re politically divided, socially fragmented, skeptical of one another’s basic facts and news sources. The federal government has failed to prepare for the crisis. The president and his staff have repeatedly dissembled about the mounting dangers to our health and security. Distrust and confusion are rampant. In this context, people take extreme measures to protect themselves and their families. Concern for the common good diminishes. We put ourselves, not America, first.
But crises can be switching points for states and societies, and the coronavirus pandemic could well be the moment when the United States rediscovers its better, collective self. Ordinary Americans, regardless of age or party, already have abundant will to promote public health and protect the most vulnerable. Although only a fraction of us are old, sick or fragile, nearly all of us love and care for someone who is.
Today Americans everywhere are worried about the fate of friends and family members. Without stronger solidarity and better leadership, though, millions of our neighbors may not get the support they need.
We’re not likely to get better leadership from the Trump administration, but there’s a lot we can do to build social solidarity. Develop lists of local volunteers who can contact vulnerable neighbors. Provide them companionship. Help them order food and medications. Recruit teenagers and college students to teach digital communications skills to older people with distant relatives and to deliver groceries to those too weak or anxious to shop. Call the nearest homeless shelter or food pantry and ask if it needs anything.
Why not begin right now?’
‘If you’re like me and worried about your favorite local businesses right now, buy their gift certificates. It will help with their immediate liquidity needs and you can use it later once we’re past this.’
CANTICLE 6 by May Sarton
Alone one is never lonely: the spirit
In a quiet garden, in a cool house, abiding single there;
The spirit adventures in sleep, the sweet thirst-slaking
When only the moon’s reflection touches the wild hair.
There is no place more intimate than the spirit alone:
It finds a lovely certainty in the evening and the morning.
It is only where two have come together bone against bone
That those alonenesses take place, when, without warning
The sky opens over their heads to an infinite hole in space;
It is only turning at night to a lover that one learns
He is set apart like a star forever and that sleeping face
(For whom the heart has cried, for whom the frail hand burns)
Is swung out in the night alone, so luminous and still,
The waking spirit attends, the loving spirit gazes
Without communion, without touch, and comes to know at last
Out of a silence only and never when the body blazes
That love is present, that always burns alone, however steadfast.
Last night I watched a documentary on war, and the part I carry with me today was the spectacle of a line of maybe 20 blinded soldiers being led, single-file, away from a yellow cloud of gas.
That must be what accounts for this morning’s brightness— sunlight slathered over everything from the royal palms to the store awnings, from the blue Corolla at the curb to a purple flower climbing a fence, one gift of sight after another.
I couldn’t see their bandaged faces, but each man had one hand resting on the shoulder of the man in front of him so that every man was guiding and being guided at the same time, and in the same tempo, given the unison of their small, cautious steps.
“In these days of anxiety, I wanted to find a way to continue to share some of the music that gives me comfort. The first of my Songs of Comfort:
‘Florence will be yours, and Pisa’s cathedral, Moscow with bells like memories, and the Troika convent, and the monastery whose maze of tunnels lies swallowed under Kiev’s gardens.’
-Rilke, The Book of Hours II, 10
‘Therefore, the meaning of my life is not to be looked for merely in the sum total of my own achievements. It is seen only in the complete integration of my achievement and failures with the achievements and failures of my own generation, my own society and time.’
-Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island
I’m a (big) fan. Rutger Bregman is a historian and author of Utopia for Realists. He writes for The Correspondent, an independent, inclusive, ad-free journalism platform founded in the Netherlands, soon to have an operation in the U.S.
“Greta Thunberg and Alexandria are often dismissed as ‘radical’ or ‘out of touch’. But the reality is: their radicalism is the future. While the planet is heating up, it’s the so-called ‘moderates’ who are out of touch.” pic.twitter.com/kVw10f76sh
“By the way, the biggest waste of our time is the waste of talent. Many bankers are way too smart to be working on Wall Street. Many coders are way too smart to be working for Uber or Amazon. They should be solving climate change, poverty, disease, etc. “Most populist radical-right voters are *not* working class
–> The majority of the working class does *not* support the populist radical right.
–> If social democracy is to survive, we need to return to its core values.” pic.twitter.com/eAap5e7dBb
Post from Rutger: “So this is Rupert Murdoch reading my book on universal basic income, the 15-hour workweek, and open borders around the globe. I’m sure he’ll love it.”
Why copying the populist right isn’t going to save the left
Social democratic parties have been losing ground for more than two decades – but pandering to rightwing anxieties about immigration is not the solution.
Most populist radical-right voters are not working class, and the majority of the working class does not support the populist radical right.
These errors are based on a larger misunderstanding about the history of social democratic parties. Social democracy is an ideology that supports egalitarianism and social justice through the framework of liberal democracy and a mixed economy. Inspired by the Marxist concept of class struggle, social democracy aims to uplift all marginalised groups. But those who argue that centre-left parties need to pander to white anxiety about immigration are essentially saying that social democratic parties are first and foremost an interest group for “the working class” – which is always, in these accounts, assumed to be white.
This misdiagnosis of the decline of the centre-left – and the rise of the populist right – leads to the wrong prescription for reviving social democracy. In fact, centre-left parties have been trying to “act tough” on immigration for decades, and have often supported policies to limit immigration, but it has not prevented their decline.
Founder of the public-policy incubator Civic Ventures
This belief system, which I have come to think of as “educationism,” is grounded in a familiar story about cause and effect: Once upon a time, America created a public-education system that was the envy of the modern world. No nation produced more or better-educated high-school and college graduates, and thus the great American middle class was built. But then, sometime around the 1970s, America lost its way. We allowed our schools to crumble, and our test scores and graduation rates to fall. School systems that once churned out well-paid factory workers failed to keep pace with the rising educational demands of the new knowledge economy. As America’s public-school systems foundered, so did the earning power of the American middle class. And as inequality increased, so did political polarization, cynicism, and anger, threatening to undermine American democracy itself.
What I’ve realized, decades late, is that educationism is tragically misguided. American workers are struggling in large part because they are underpaid—and they are underpaid because 40 years of trickle-down policies have rigged the economy in favor of wealthy people like me. Americans are more highly educated than ever before, but despite that, and despite nearly record-low unemployment, most American workers—at all levels of educational attainment—have seen little if any wage growth since 2000.
To be clear: We should do everything we can to improve our public schools. But our education system can’t compensate for the ways our economic system is failing Americans. Even the most thoughtful and well-intentioned school-reform program can’t improve educational outcomes if it ignores the single greatest driver of student achievement: household income.
income inequality has exploded not because of our country’s educational failings but despite its educational progress. Make no mistake: Education is an unalloyed good. We should advocate for more of it, so long as it’s of high quality. But the longer we pretend that education is the answer to economic inequality, the harder it will be to escape our new Gilded Age.
If we really want to give every American child an honest and equal opportunity to succeed, we must do much more than extend a ladder of opportunity—we must also narrow the distance between the ladder’s rungs. We must invest not only in our children, but in their families and their communities.
“If you look at the report, 21% of sales, marketing, advertising and public relations professionals think that their job is socially useless, as opposed to 0% of librarians.”
World Economic Forum
This is our chance to completely redefine the meaning of work
(Author and economist Rutger Bregman) ‘Bregman argues that the social usefulness of many jobs has been in decline since the middle of the last century. And the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is only going to exacerbate the problem.
“In the 50s, 60s and 70s, if you were really talented in your field you would probably go into research or government,” he says.
“But then what started to happen in the 80s in advanced economies is that it became much more financially attractive to move into financial services and the tech industry. While there is useful work being done there, we also know, especially with the financial sector, that it involves a huge amount of people getting rich at expense of others.
He adds: “I’m not saying all banking jobs are useless, but it should be a service to help the economy operate more smoothly, not this behemoth.”
Bregman cites the now oft-repeated quote by Jeff Hammerbacher, an early employee of Facebook who quickly became disillusioned with the company’s work, as an example: “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.”
One crucial element that will drive the redefining of work, according to Bregman, is the introduction of a universal basic income (UBI).
The idea is that governments would hand out an equal stipend to every citizen, regardless of existing income, that would be sufficient to meet basic needs like food and housing.
The point of a UBI is that it would give us the freedom to redefine the nature of work.
“Let’s imagine that you’re 17 or 18 years old, and you’re thinking about what you want to do. Your interests might be the arts, history or anthropology, but your parents or your relatives might urge you to focus on that later, telling you that you ought to look for a job that pays a decent salary.
“So you go and get a well-paid job, do an MBA and 10 to 15 years later you’re depressed and in the grip of a mid-life crisis and then end up doing what you’ve always wanted to.
“The UBI will change this. Kids can fall back on the basic income if their passion doesn’t work out. It cuts out 20 years of waste.”
In the shorter term, he adds, the people who already have meaningful jobs will get increased bargaining power.’